It cost taxpayers $468 million when Premier Kathleen Wynne reopened teacher contracts to soften a wage-freeze bill her predecessor Dalton McGuinty imposed, auditor general Bonnie Lysyk says.
“That is the total for the additional cost,” she told reporters Wednesday after releasing a long-awaited special report into the 2012 legislation that Wynne repealed and renegotiated after taking power last year.
The lost savings — which come off the $2.4 billion originally estimated by the Liberals — came in new deals with several unions for “benefits, salaries and wages . . . something I view as taken directly out of the classrooms,” said Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod.
She chided the Liberals for keeping the extra costs secret after negotiations were reached.
“The government wasn’t honest and it wasn’t truthful,” MacLeod charged, noting teachers had deserted their traditional Liberal allies in droves after the wage-freeze bill was passed.
“Kathleen Wynne wanted to consolidate a voting bloc of hers before an election.”
Education Minister Liz Sandals walked away from reporters asking about the $468 million in foregone savings when the government is trying to eliminate a $12.5 billion deficit.
“I think that’s a very odd question . . . I think it is a good news story,” she said in reference to Lysyk’s finding that the Liberal government was “reasonable” in its estimates of cost savings for the bill covering the two-year period from 2012 to 2014.
“All our calculations were reasonable given the information we had at the time.”
Lysyk said the extra costs to bolster the deals with teachers are separate.
“There’s always going to be costs associated with reopening agreements.”
The auditor also pointed out there may be more costs in the form of a Charter of Rights challenge by several unions remains that remains before the courts and won’t be heard until April.
“It’s something to think about . . . depending on how the courts decide.”
New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns didn’t quarrel with the extra $468 million cost, saying the Liberals were wrong to force the original deal on teachers and risk a constitutional challenge.
“They’re in danger of having that go against them.”
MacLeod pushed for the audit in the legislature’s estimates committee after Wynne took over from McGuinty in February 2013 and repealed the bill to make peace with teachers unions.
When it was passed, the bill froze wages for two years — except for movement up through the grid for younger teachers as they gained experience — in exchange for three unpaid days off, halving the number of sick days to 10 annually and a ban on cashing them out upon retirement.
It was based on a similar deal signed by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.
McGuinty, who boasted at the time he had increased teachers’ compensation by 25 per cent since 2004, said the government had no choice but to belt-tighten as it struggled with a $14.8-billion deficit.
“We are doing what we need to do,” the grim-faced premier told the house.
The bill was forced through the legislature with support from the Conservatives when McGuinty called MPPs back early from their summer recess in August 2012 before crucial byelections the minority Liberal government hoped would inch it over the line to a majority.
New Democrats voted against the law, known as Bill 115 or the Putting Students First Act, and in those byelections captured the longtime Progressive Conservative riding of Kitchener-Waterloo that the Liberals had hoped to gain.
Weeks later, with some teacher unions that had been Liberal allies furious at the government and vowing to drop extracurricular activities such as coaching sports, McGuinty announced his resignation with the legislature in a furor over his decision to cancel two gas-fired power plants before the 2011 election.
The OPP continues a investigate the deletion of politically sensitive emails and documents involving those cancellations.